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Canlis Charcoal Broiler in Honolulu

What does Seattle’s grand dame of fine dining have to do with Hawaii, land of palm trees and little-umbrella drinks? A ton, as it turns out. Founder Peter Canlis, grandfather to today’s owners, moved to Oahu right before World War II. He cooked at the Pearl Harbor USO before running, though not owning, a Honolulu restaurant called the Broiler. 

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Peter Canlis (left) on base in 1942

Postwar, Canlis scoped out Seattle to make his mainland mark. Family lore has it that since he had no bigwig connections to find funding, he’d go to the Washington Athletic Club and page himself repeatedly, hoping his name would seep into the subconscious of Seattle’s elite. In 1950 he finally got the Queen Anne eatery open, placing its grill in the middle of the restaurant and asking waitstaff to wear kimonos—both ideas borrowed from the Japanese-staffed Honolulu joint.

Eventually Canlis owned his own place on Oahu (closed in the ’80s), and for years he shipped fish between them by befriending flight attendants who’d sneak salmon and Dungeness crab into their Honolulu-bound flights and mahimahi on the way back.

Canlis Seattle hasn’t had tiki torches in decades, but Canlis’s grandson Mark, now co-owner with his brother, says the Hawaiian roots are still there, from the rum-based drinks on the bar menu to the team-style wait program pioneered by his grandfather’s Japanese staff.

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